Bill Ritter, Denver leaders invoke Martin Luther King on Martin Luther King Day: No, seriously

In a seemingly off-the-cuff jolt of enthusiasm for the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Governor Bill Ritter this morning tossed aside the standard "we still have work to do" speech clichés and delivered something different: a gubernatorial sermon.

At the kickoff for Denver's 25th MLK march and parade (the "marade"), the lame-duck governor blasted what he called "uncivil discourse" in modern media and blogs, saying, "I don't feel like we are united as a people."

Addressing the pundits and talk jockeys directly while at the same time prodding those in attendance, Ritter sounded less like a stiff in the governor's mansion than a civil rights activist. "If you look at this crowd, you might think Dr. King's dream is achieved," Ritter said before the nation's largest gathering of maraders. "But if he heard of the [in]civility of our discourse -- that would absolutely bother Dr. King....Let's make a commitment today that we might have a level of discourse that is civil and righteous and brings people together," Ritter said to applause almost as loud as you might hear for a union leader at an anti-Ritter rally.

Ritter's unabashed attempt at blunt civility suggests that he plans to hold to his promise at last week's State of the State address not to go quietly.

Before a dutiful admission that "I am not a preacher," Ritter closed with Biblical scripture, catching Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll -- who is a preacher -- off guard.

"I feel like since the governor took a text and started preaching, I should, too," Carroll said.

He wasn't the only one inspired by the day. After not four, not five, but six different, lengthy prayers from spiritual leaders of varying theology, a brisk marade might have been what the good doctor ordered to shake off the Amens.

"I didn't know you could have so many invocations," said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who has officially thrown his hat in the ring to succeed Padre Ritter. "I feel fully invoked."

Find information here for other MLK Day events, including the African American Heritage Rodeo at 6 p.m. tonight at the Denver Coliseum. Ticket prices vary by section.

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